Chapter 3: “Stupid cougar.”
Water was strange that way. It was seemingly clear but the instant it moved it was almost impossible to see through. The ripples and movement of water were no different than the liquid itself yet they still managed to defy logic. It was infuriating.
Luckily, I didn't really need to see underwater. Still, it was disappointing. Something so simple could rid a lot of the annoyance in my system at the moment.
When I surfaced from the small river, I felt like a wet dish rag. At least I think I did. Ma had only told us about them once. She barely got through the explanation as she found our ignorance amusing. She couldn't stop laughing as she described a wet piece of cloth frequented by humans.
I looked down the river and watched the calm rapids. A wisp of red traveled downstream. It was never ending as it had originated from my coat. It traveled further down the clear waters, the red fading away as the liquid spread to join the rest of the water.
A light shiver ran down my spine and I shook my head when another drop of water landed in my eye. This bath kept getting worse and worse as my nerves were grinded into a soft powder. It was rather nerve racking to be the only one taking a bath when eleven others sat on the bank. They were spread out on the rocks, most of them watching me carefully. They were treating me like a vase, something else Ma had told us about. She said it was very prone to accidents in most forms of media and had a habit of breaking easily, even in the real world.
If they break so easily, I don't get why people even get them.
When I had first seen my scar, I thought it made me look strong. Like I could handle anything. But apparently my family saw it differently.
I knew I was getting cranky. I wasn't so easily annoyed most of the time. I wasn't even entirely sure why I was so irritable. I suspected it had something to do with the constant hovering over the last few hours after I woke. Usually I wasn't the center of attention for so long. I wasn't even allowed to go on a short hunting trip alone. They used to never care or notice when I went hunting. Now they noticed every occasional itch and treated it like a tick.
I ducked my head under once more but came out as fast as I had entered. By now, I could feel that the current had worked out the dried blood from days past. Not a drop remained, it had all been replaced by water. I peeked over my shoulder as if looking at the sky.
Zale sat behind me, studying his reflection in the water from where he sat on a large rock. He kept cocking his head and practicing different facial expressions. He didn't notice my gaze as he scrunched his face in a way that made him seem constipated. I inconspicuously backed up a few steps and pretended to try and catch a small fish.
Suddenly my tail swooped through the river behind me, disrupting the calm surface. It carried with it a trail of water as it swept skywards. I waited with anxious anticipation when the water flew towards the constipated black wolf. I wasn't disappointed when it splashed against his face. Zale yelped in surprise and tried to scramble to his feet. He forgot what he was on and almost immediately slipped, stumbling like a young pup.
With one last stumble, Zale careened into the water. His previous looking glass erupted in droplets of clear liquid as he somersaulted inside. Before long, his fur plastered head popped out. A growl simmered in his throat and I casually began to walk away. However, Zale noticed the forced casualness and started clumsily bounding after me.
I picked up my pace and began to jog as gracefully as I could through the water. My other siblings, besides Dakota who was off on a stroll, looked after me with alarm. They all started growling, thinking I was being chased by some predator when Zale came into view. The growl cut off and I heard several huffs as the routine picked up again.
The water was up to my shoulders as I began to run, making it increasingly harder. The cool temperature felt soothing on my aching ribs as my brother followed close behind. I wasn't sure how he was managing it, but Zale began to catch up. In a split second decision, I ducked into the water before careening towards the bank. The wolf following behind tripped in surprise, falling face first once more.
It was up to my knees now so I basically hopped through the river. When I reached the bank, I planted my dripping hindquarters onto a flat rock. Zale was standing up, blinking rapidly as he shook his head. When his vision cleared he looked around for me. I saw sudden panic in his eyes right before they met mine. When brown and near black met, the latter narrowed.
I thumped my soggy tail on the warm rocks. The sound was like dropping a wet towel on the ground. I should know, I was in the humans rather small backyard when they did that. I still don't know why they thought I was a dog. I was fifteen at the time and fully grown into my wolfish features. Then again, the tottering old woman could barely walk. When she 'captured' me, I didn't have the heart to run off. I was afraid that if I did, she would fall over. I may be a wolf but I still have good morals.
Zale's brow twitched, a clear sign of his building annoyance. Suddenly he was bounding through the water, scaring away all the fish in a one mile radius. I stood quickly from my rock and didn't have time to watch the liquid drip off the edge as I darted down the bank. Too quickly to possibly be natural, Zale was following.
I was swift and nimble with my paws on the rocks. Sometimes bouncing off the sides like a freaking mountain goat. But, unfortunately, Zale enjoyed climbing rock structures in his free time. He had plenty of practice to know which rocks to use to go the most distance in the least amount of time.
As the black wolf drew closer and closer I watched the nearby forest. I kept a careful eye on the rocks, looking for the perfect spot to change directions. The rocks may have been Zale's territory, but the forest was where I thrived. I loved running through the forest. The thrill of dodging trees and jumping over logs, even occasionally crawling under bushes. Besides, I was itching to test out that new speed I acquired the other night.
When I saw a large rock up ahead, I built up speed. Right when I reached it, I bounced off the side and was sent flying in the direction of the woods. Zale thought I was trying to lose him and repeated the action with ease, still getting closer.
Right when I felt my brother’s hot breath on my tail, we breached the forest wall. We were swallowed into a completely different world. Shadows covered our bodies and birdsong rang out. The grass beneath our paws was a nice change to the rough rocks. It was showtime.
I could tell Zale was about to nip my tail, the clear sign that he caught me that didn't involve a potentially dangerous tackle. But, my older brother was in for a surprise. I called upon my wolf and with ease, we shot through the forest. I heard a sharp yip behind me.
I continued on, tapping into this part of me that had been hidden from view for years. But now that I knew it was there, it was as easy to find as a dove among bluebirds. I still didn't know what to call it. My wolf knew, in fact she was sitting smugly in the back of my mind as I struggled to place it. But this new strength I seemed to possess when I decided to was almost as if my wolf had woken up.
Now that I thought back, I recalled several moments where I had been running at my best and had this feeling that I could go faster. Or I was dragging a kill and somehow knew I should be able to do this with ease. It seemed this extra strength had been there for years, simply comatose till it was needed.
In fact, now as I ran, I got that feeling again. I ran around trees and rocks, boredom creeping up my spine as Zale tried to catch up. Then I got an idea. A solution to both my irritation and the light crackling in my veins.
As I ran towards a large rock, I slowed down. I was still in a steady lope but noticeably slower than before as I reached the rock. I heard Zale behind me as I jumped up and sat down. I looked down at my brother as he came to a sudden stop in front of me.
Zale was still soaked as he huffed, but the run had shed most of the water in his fur. His coat still stuck to his skinny, lean frame but I could see where furs began to fluff up. As for me, I was still moist but the majority of the water had fled into the dirt. I knew another good hour of running would dry the fur as easily as one of those electric hair dryers. That was exactly what I planned to do.
I was breathing slightly harder than normal but compared to how Zale huffed and puffed, it was nothing. I cocked my head down at him as he planted his haunches in the dirt. I didn't want to be around when he tried to get that stuff out.
My brother's head hung as he caught his breath. By the time he looked up, I lay with my head resting on my paws, watching him. He glared as I began to yap.
A small growl was my answer and I smiled slyly.
“Good, good. So, unless you want to join me for a run, I'll be going now.”
Zale suddenly stood as I stretched. He barked.
“Wait! What do you mean you're going for a run?”
I froze and looked at him like he was the dumbest wolf alive. That could never be true and we both knew it. Our brother would always hold that title.
“Who are you? Boris? You do know what a run is, right?”
“By the Moon, Loma, of course I know what a run is! But you can't just take off!”
I cocked my head at him. My wolf was getting riled up as my annoyance grew. I carefully hid the angry flickers in my eyes as I asked, “Why not? I've done it before and I'm even letting you know.”
Zale seemed to be getting annoyed by my logic.
Well that makes two of us, mister.
“But it's not safe! The last time you ran off you nearly died!”
My wolf scoffed. Our anger was growing and I had to fight back a growl at what his words implied. I could feel a ring of molten silver light up around my pupils. I could tell Zale saw it as his eyes widened. My wolf had never shown her eyes around my family so he had no clue what to expect.
“In case you didn't know,” I growled, “I didn't ‘run off’ as you so eloquently put it. I took it upon myself to lead a hungry cougar away from my pack, saving all of your lives in the process and I would gladly do it again if necessary.”
Zale growled slightly and opened his mouth but it slammed closed at the look I gave him. Reflected in his eyes I saw the true reason. A storm was rumbling through mine. Brown swirled around, occasionally beaten down by a molten silver. A storm was warring itself within my soul and my eyes made it well known. My wolf was not happy.
Well, neither am I.
I walked forward from where I stood above him and jumped down. When I stood before my brother, my growls grew even more dangerous as my wolf pushed forward.
“I didn't run off, I led a creature that I knew wished to kill me away from the ones I loved. You and the rest of our family may have your different views on the matter, but the bottomline is that I am not weak. Just because I have a permanent mark on my body from a fight gone wrong does not suddenly make me a defenseless little pup.”
Zale froze as I struck home. His eyes then hardened and he took a step forward. The flashing of my teeth sent him stepping back.
“Don't you dare try to deny it. I swear to the Moon and back I won't hold my wolf back when she decides to come out. If you do, you will finally see what these scars have been trying to tell you all along.”
I turned at just the right angle for Zale to see. For him to see the scars that would adorn my hide forever. I wanted him to see the thing that had brought me so much pain and now only evoked pride in my heart.
It didn't help my wolves anger when he clenched his eyes shut. He wouldn't look at it. He was avoiding it like some kind of plague. The rage coursing through my veins was like a poison. One that caused all my muscles to tense and shake at the same time. And just like a poison, the longer the anger was left untreated the deeper it simmered. The more it spread and took over.
A growl shook my chest at that moment. It was a growl I had only used once on that cliff. A deep rooted snarl of pure fury that shook the ground beneath my paws. A growl that sent the lively forest into silence.
That crackling that had been simmering in my veins just moments ago had grown. It was now full on electricity that caused the fur along my back to stand up. Lighting flashed through my mind's eye and my limbs as the nearby shadows of early evening disappeared. Everything around me within a ten foot radius was lit up with a light eerily similar to the moon.
Just as the stories said, in that moment, my eyes seemed to be the Moon itself. The fables we had been told as kids about how werewolves were created never seemed as true as in that moment. I truly felt as if I had been woven together by the strings of light that often lit up the night. It felt as if my eyes were lunar rocks, casting a soft glow upon all. I felt like a true child of the Moon at that moment.
I didn't even try to calm the fury swirling through my chest. My brother had no idea, but I was the only thing standing between him and my furious wolf. The midnight wolf had no idea how thin the string on my control was at that moment. I barely managed to keep from tackling him as I growled a parting word.
“I'll be back in an hour.”
With that, I spun on my heels and darted into the woods. I left my brother staring after me with a mixture of surprise, confusion and worry. I ignored his gaze as I picked up speed and darted through the trees.
As it turned out, an hour wasn't enough to completely banish my anger. So, as an hour rolled past, I kept running. My ribs seemed to be fully healed at this point so nothing was holding me back. My wolf had crawled back into my mind after the fifty minute checkpoint but her fur was still ruffled. I didn't dare return to my family with an angry wolf.
Right now, I was running alongside a herd of deer. I wasn't particularly hungry, having just eaten a rabbit, but I crossed paths with them. They had already been running so I merely joined them, no ulterior motives in sight. Although, I was practicing my stealth as I ran in the trees with them, undetected in the fading light.
As I jumped over a log, landing without the faintest sound on the other side, I saw a streak of grey running on the deers other side. I kept an eye out for more movement when I saw a streak brown, followed by another. It was now that I noticed the three wolves running alongside the herd. Two brown one grey. As I continued on, I took a concentrated whiff of the air.
They were rogue werewolves, a family. They all shared the scent of burning pine and had different woodsy scents. The smaller and fluffier of the two brown wolves had a more Oak concentrated scent whilst the bigger bulkier one, approximately the size of Conroy, smelt of pine sap. The grey wolf was clearly a male but rather short. His fur had the same volume as the brown she-wolfs but underneath he had a lean build. This wolf smelled very strongly of maple leaves.
I could tell this family wasnt just on a joy run. They seemed to be focused on a young doe that looked to have a slight limp. Unfortunately for them, she looked perfectly healthy. Sometimes these deer could be crafty. They weren't quite as brainless as most assumed.
From my first initial scan of the group, I could tell they had not eaten in awhile. I knew the feeling and recognized the signs. The longer strides, heavy panting at a fairly easy pace, clumsy footsteps and desperation overruling clear thought of mind. They hadn't even noticed my presence.
For some reason, my wolf took pity on them. She felt an instant connection to one of their wolves. She took control of the wheel quite suddenly, throwing me into the passenger's seat abruptly. I was dazed for a second before focusing back into what was happening.
The forest ahead was washed in a silver light as my eyes glowed. My wolf kept the glow to a minimum, avoiding alerting either the deer or the wolves to our presence. As we ran, she did a look over on each and every deer. Then her eyes narrowed in on one.
An old doe ran on the side, slightly slower than the rest. My wolf took note of her greying furs and fairly recent leg wound. It also looked like she had birthed many fawns and had since then expired.
As we picked up speed, I felt that electricity fill my veins once more. We were nearly invisible in the darkening forests now, just an occasional black blur. As the herd approached a meadow, my wolf ran alongside, a patient predator in wait.
When the deer entered the meadow, my wolf darted ahead to hide in the shadows of the tree line. The other wolves were still keeping pace with them, but I could tell they were exhausted and were beginning to give up. We waited, crouched low. I felt like a charging battery as my limbs shook and the electricity built. Then, when the herd ran past, we exploded.
I darted out of the forest, faster than I've ever gone before. I heard an exclamation of surprise from one of the wolves as I intercepted the herd. My wolf steered us through the herd, dodging panicked hooves as we darted around. The old doe was on the other side so we had to go through the herd to get to her.
When we reached her, she had caught on to the herds panic and had tried to pick up the pace. Before she could fully converge within the safety of the hooven feet, my wolf intercepted her. We ran alongside the greying doe and steadily began to force her further and further away from the herd. Once she was far enough away, my wolf bared her teeth and growled. That sent the prey running off into the surrounding trees and straight towards the other wolves.
At this point, I knew they thought I was oblivious to their rather obvious presence. When I had appeared, the grey one had stopped running, taken by surprise. So, only the brown wolves remained and they had merely been observing me and my rather odd method of separating the prey.
So, as I sent a doe their way, they finally caught on. Within seconds of the doe entering the forest a thud silenced all the birds as the herd ran off. I had stopped when the doe had fallen and now stood in the long grass, watching my fellow rogues make their kill. My wolf retreated to the back of my mind with satisfaction.
I planted my haunches in the grass and watched the shadows of the forest. The grass was taller than I was when sitting down yet I was sure my dark coat stood out, making me clear even to any human that passed by. After only a few moments, the bigger of the two wolves stepped out of the trees. His eyes shot to my dark mysterious figure in the grass.
A pair of startlingly bright hazel eyes met mine and narrowed infinitesimally. The large brown wolf stood at the tree's edge, trying to study my frozen figure. I was having way too much fun remaining mysterious to the large wolf. I had always wanted to try and be the shadowy figure in someone's life. Ma had told me there were hundreds of books out there with those characters. If I was in a book, I would love to play that part just for the shits and giggles.
As I remained in the grass, partly studying the wolf and partly remaining mysterious, he seemed to be getting suspicious. I couldn't blame him, I was silently staring at the stranger I had just helped. Not to mention I was also trying to remain mysterious.
A sound within the forest had my ear twitching as a brown rump came into view from the shadows. The small brown she-wolf was dragging the doe to the treeline, unwilling to leave it behind. The large wolf only twitched his tail in her direction.
The she-wolf turned around and blinked her midnight blue eyes in surprise. She obviously had expected me to disappear. That meant the big brute over there was usually as silent as a rock. He reminded me of someone I knew.
I have to introduce Conroy to this big fella. They'd probably hit it off right away.
Blue Eyes looked at her brother to find him watching me intensely. When she looked back at me there was a certain glint in her eyes that made me wary. After a few moments, I cocked my head in a silent question. This was much too fun.
The two wolves remained silent, waiting for me to make the first move. I allowed my concentration to slip when paw-steps approached from the distance. My tail gave a single thump and a quick short sounded from my lips. The brown pair seemed a little surprised at my amusement. I shook my head furiously for it to go away but I could feel the humanlike cackles climbing up my throat. Just as one was about to escape, I lay down and held my snout closed with a single paw.
The other wolves looked extremely confused as I fought an internal battle. My wolf even began to find this amusing which did not help in the slightest. They shared a look and seemed to shrug although it was hard to tell. This confirmed my suspicions of them being full grown werewolves. Only werewolves that had already shifted on their eighteenth knew how to shrug. It was a distinctly human action that was only successful in the human body.
When the pounding of a singular wolf's paws neared, I took a careful whiff of the air. I really didn't want to start laughing in front of two or possibly three random strangers. The nearing scent shared the burning pine scent with the other two. I recognized the maple leaves scent that belonged to their grey brother.
Their ears twitched and their noses quivered as they also placed the owner. Suddenly, they weren't so calm. I suspected that this brother didn't have the best fighting experience. Both wolves in front of me were snarling, trying to chase me away as their hackles and tails raised.
For some reason, my wolf was slightly annoyed at their tails. But, being as courteous as she was, she let it pass. She understood what they were feeling, as did I. We understood the fear for a sibling perfectly.
So, I stood from my place in the grass. I forced my tail to stay neutral and I lowered my head as I began to walk out of my cover. The time for fun and games was over. The grass brushed against my fur as I padded silently.
As I emerged from the long grass, the two wolves drank in every detail. From my dark fur and brown eyes to my rather small size. They found me harmless and their tails and hackles lowered simultaneously. They hadn't seen my scar. If they had, they wouldn't have been so trusting.
I made sure to keep my right side angled away as I stopped a mere three feet away. I sat down and inclined my snout down a hair. It came right back up, reluctant to even have done it in the first place.
“I apologize, random strangers. I was merely humoring myself with the role of mysterious shadow. I mean no harm to your brother or to any of you.”
The female seemed amused that I felt so carefree when I was outnumbered. The male gave no response and studied me with burning eyes. I blinked innocently up at him and yipped again.
“I myself have siblings so I know how you feel. I would even say that I would fight a full grown male cougar for my family. Any who, I hope you like the doe. I picked her out myself.”
I snickered a little at that before growing serious at their curious eyes. I cocked my head.
“Come on, spit it out. I know you want to say something.”
The she-wolf stared at me for a moment. Then she complied.
“Why did you help us? And how long were you there before us?”
“I had been running alongside that herd for a good ten minutes when you three showed up and I recognized the signs of hunger. I have been there many times throughout my life as well. I'm well accustomed to the signs so my wolf took it upon herself to help. Of course I agreed, especially at seeing how easily you were fooled by that faking doe.”
They both looked startled from my open words and the new knowledge. The large wolf barked a single word.
I nodded vigorously, not missing the startled glance thrown his way. His sister was shell shocked to see him talk.
They must be more alike than I thought.
“Deer all around the world are developing a system. The healthiest in each herd would fake a limp or some sort of problem to trick us. Then we would chase after a perfectly healthy doe and be outrun easily. They're not as brainless as they look. Unlike my brother of course but that's a completely different matter.”
I grinned at the pair of brown wolves. I could hear their brother getting closer yet I acted like I didn't notice.
“Now that we have all spoken, I think we're on friendly enough terms to share names, right?”
They both nodded hesitantly. Their ears were twitching madly, most likely reacting to each and every time their brother placed a paw on the ground. I grinned and my tail thumped care freely.
“Great! Paloma Skyle, eleventh born of twelve, seventeen years old, at your service.”
Their expressions were purely comical as they stared at me. The female questioned me.
“Twelve? And you're only seventeen?”
I nodded. I could see the incredulous look in the males eyes and elaborated.
“Twelve is the max and yes, I'm seventeen. Though I am turning eighteen tomorrow.”
The she-wolf nodded and the forest fell silent. She shook her head as she remembered she was supposed to introduce herself.
“Right. I'm Navy Souen, first born of four, twenty years old. This is Kennedy, third born.”
I smiled slightly and hesitantly questioned them.
“Who's the one coming our way? I think I enjoy being a mysterious stranger.”
They both tensed slightly before Navy replied.
I was about to respond in my usual fashion when I was suddenly aware of the shadows creeping in. The sky was getting darker and the sun was already setting. It looked like I had been gone for a good two hours now. My family was probably panicking back at the river. I was supposed to be back an hour ago.
I jumped to my paws, causing the other two to tense. I froze as I remembered their presence. I cringed a little as I hurriedly explained.
“Sorry, I just realized the time. My family's gonna freak, I was supposed to go back an hour ago.”
Navy and Kennedy nodded. I wagged my tail, not bothering to lower it from its usual position now that we were acquainted. As I began to turn back to the grass I mumbled under my breath.
I turned back to them with slightly widened eyes before tilting my head. No point in hiding the scars now.
“Now why would I say that? I wonder. I'll let you figure it out. See you around, Navy and Kennedy.”
I allowed the scars to come into full view as I turned. I heard a slight intake of breath at the gruesome sight. A small growl accompanied it though when Conroy 2.0 realized why I was so casual. As I slipped into the grass, I felt and smelled the presence of Iver join the pair. I could feel their gazes on me as I moved soundlessly though the tall blades.
“Who was that?”
Curious little Iver didn't get an answer. The moon replaced the sun on the horizon and all the remaining birds fell silent. My dark coat seamlessly joined the shadows of the night as I jogged off.
I sprinted the rest of the way home to my family. Or at least I was supposed to. I didn't reach them till dawn. Things got a little messy.